Fascism in a Pinstriped Suit,


excerpted from the book

Dirty Truths

by Michael Parenti

City Lights Books, 1996, paper


Unless one was Jewish, or poor and unemployed, or actively leftist or otherwise openly anti-Nazi, Germany from 1933 until well into the war was not a nightmarish place. All the "good Germans" had to do was obey the law, pay their taxes, give their sons to the army, avoid any sign of political heterodoxy, and look the other way when unions were busted and troublesome people disappeared.

Since many "middle Americans" already obey the law, pay their taxes, give their sons to the army, are themselves distrustful of political heterodoxy, and applaud when unions are broken and troublesome people are disposed of, they probably could live without too much personal torment in a fascist state...

It is sometimes argued by those who deny the imminence of American fascism that we are more free today than ever before. One's ability to accept such reassurance partly depends on the class conditions and life chances that one confronts. The affluent individual whose views fit into that portion of the American political spectrum known as the "mainstream" (from rightist Republican to centrist Democrat) and whose political actions are limited to the standardized forms of participation- informal discussion, television viewing, newspaper reading, and voting-is apt to dismiss the contention that America is fascistic. But those who oppose the existing political orthodoxy and who find themselves under surveillance and subjected to the intimidations, harassments, and sanctions of the U.S. national security state have a less sanguine view. '

The FBI and local police Red squads are once again spying, burglarizing, disrupting, and otherwise targeting various organizations that work for social justice, peace and disarmament, or environmentalism. During the 1980s almost two hundred organizations were labeled, not communist fronts as during the repressive McCarthy era of the 1950s, but "terrorist fronts," including Martin Luther King Jr.'s own Southern Leadership Conference and various church and student organizations.

In the last two decades one of the fastest growing markets has been in guns, clubs, helmets, bulletproof vests, and other items of domestic warfare sold to law enforcers, and the fastest growing area of public employment has been police and prison guards. The prison populations in most states have grown exponentially, mostly with small-time drug users. By 1995-96, California was spending more on prisons than on education.

This is not to assume that the police are busy fighting crime. For all their new equipment and personnel, they do little if anything to stop the big drug traffickers, slumlords, sweatshop operators, mobsters, corrupt politicians, spouse beaters, child abusers, rapists, muggers, hate mongers, and others who prey off the most vulnerable among us.

The real function of the police is social control. Their job is to keep in line those elements that might prove potentially troublesome to the powers that be.

The social control function of law enforcement operates on three levels within inner-city communities and among potentially "troublesome" populations. First, there is the street-level repression provoked and perpetrated by too many police officers, who use their badges and guns as a cover for venting their racist animosities and personal distortions. All this is a matter of public record, with case after case of police brutality and case after case of settlements. And for every brutality victim who wins damages there are many who never make it into court.

Second, there is the mass trafficking in narcotics, in which the police play an active role as distributors along with federal agencies, such as the CIA, that are linked directly to overseas traffickers. This too is a matter of public record, with findings by three different congressional committees and sworn testimony by pilots who have flown narcotics and weapons shipments for the CIA.

On the third level are the coordinated systematic efforts by federal, state, and local authorities to undermine community protest organizations, because the powers that be prefer demoralized, divided, disorganized, and drug-ridden populations to people who are politicized and who mobilize for collective action and /radical change.

It seems that the ability of most middle-class whites to perceive the fascist features of American society is seriously blunted not only by their class experiences but by the aura of familiarity and legitimacy that enshrouds the established political culture. In making comparisons between their society and others, they tend to employ a double standard. Thus the organized forms of police violence in America are seen as isolated, aberrant happenings on the infrequent occasions they are publicized- rather than as inherent manifestations of our social order. But the same practices in certain other lands are treated as predictable components of totalitarian systems.

The Nazi invasion of Poland is fascism in action; the American invasion of Vietnam is a "blunder" or at worst an "immoral application" of power. The indoctrination of children in Nazi Germany into the myths and rituals of the nation-state is seen as characteristic of fascism; but our own grade-school indoctrination replete with flag salutes, national anthems, and history books espousing the myths of American superiority is "education for citizenship." Many social arrangements and happenings that would evoke strongly negative sentiments if defined as products of a totalitarian state become, by their proximity and cultural familiarity, no cause for alarm when practiced at home.

The collusion between Center and Right is understandable. Despite their differences in emphasis and methods (differences that are not always to be dismissed as insignificant) the Center and Right share a common commitment to the ongoing corporate class structure, and conservative institutional authority.

Those of us designated as "extreme leftists" actually want rather moderate and civil things: a clean environment, a fair tax structure, use of social production for social needs, expansion of public sector production, serious cuts in a bloated military budget, affordable housing, decently paying jobs, equal justice for all, and the like. There is nothing morally extreme about such things. They are "extreme" only in the sense of being extremely at odds with the dominant interests of the status quo. In the face of such gross injustice and class privilege, considerations of social justice and betterment take on the appearance of "extreme" measures.

Nor does it follow that those who occupy the center of any political spectrum are thereby incapable of the kind of brutal, repressive, destructive, intransigent actions usually associated with fascist extremists. It was not the John Birch Society that tried to bomb Indochina into the Stone Age, nor was it the American Nazi Party that perfected napalm and put thalidomide in the defoliants used throughout Indochina. And today it is not the skinheads and Klan that maintain the death squads and other homicidal operations throughout so much of the Third World. It is the best and the brightest of the political Center (with plenty of help from rightists).



Throughout history there has been only one thing that ruling interests have ever wanted -and that is everything: all the choice lands, forests, game, herds, harvests, mineral deposits, and precious metals of the earth; all the wealth, riches, and profitable returns; all the productive facilities, gainful inventiveness, and technologies; all the control positions of the state and other major institutions; all public supports and subsidies, privileges and immunities; all the protections of the law with none of its constraints; all the services, comforts, luxuries, and advantages of civil society with none of the taxes and costs. Every ruling class has wanted only this: all the rewards and none of the burdens. The operational code is: we have a lot; we can get more; we want it all.

With the rollback of communism, the politico-economic circles that preside over this country no longer feel they need to tolerate any modus vivendi with those who work for a living. Instead of worrying about lowering unemployment, as during the cold war, corporate elites now seek to sustain a relatively high level of joblessness in order to weaken unions, curb workers, and attain growth without inflation.

Growth without inflation sounds pretty good. But meanwhile we are witnessing the Third Worldization of the United States, the economic downgrading of a relatively prosperous population. Corporate circles see no reason why millions of working people should be able to enjoy a middle-class living standard, with home ownership, surplus income, and secure long-term employment. They also see no reason why the middle class itself should be as large as it is.

As the haves would have it, people must lower their expectations, work harder, and be satisfied with less. The more they get, the more they will expect and be able to demand, until we will end up with a social democracy-or worse. Better to keep them down and hungry with their noses to the grindstone. For the ruling interests, it is time to return to nineteenth-century standards, the kind that currently obtain throughout the Third World specifically, an unorganized working populace that toils for a bare subsistence; a mass of unemployed, desperate poor who help to depress wages and serve as a target for the misplaced resentment of those just above them; a small, shrinking middle class that hangs on by its bleeding fingers; and a tiny, obscenely rich owning class that has it all.

The haves are pulling out the stops. For them, it's time to cutback drastically on such luxuries as education, medical care, libraries, mass transportation, and other publicly funded human services, so that people will have the opportunity to learn how to take care of themselves. Time to do away with unions, business regulations, minimum-wage laws, occupational safety, consumer safety, environmental protections, and taxes on investment income. All these things cut into profits. Every dollar that goes into the public sector is one less for the private sector. And the haves want it all.

Along with the decline in working and living conditions in the United States and other Western nations, there has come an economic collapse in many Third World nations. This development too has been accelerated by the collapse of communism.

During the cold war era, U.S. policymakers sought to contain communism by ensuring the economic growth and stability of anticommunist regimes. But Third World development began to threaten U.S. corporate profitability. By the late 1970s, governments in Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea, and other nations were closing off key sectors of their economies to U.S. investment. In addition, exports from these countries were competing for overseas markets with U.S. firms, including within the United States itself. At the same time, growing numbers of Third World leaders were calling for more coordinated effort to control their own communication and media systems, their own resources, markets, air space, and seabeds.

By the 1980s, U.S. policymakers were rejecting the view that a more prosperous, economically independent Third World would work to the interests of U.S. capitalism. Instead, they sought to subordinate the economies of Third Word nations by rolling back development programs and weakening the political efficacy of their governments. The goal has been to create a world free for maximizing profits irrespective of the human and environmental costs. And there no longer is a competing communist world to which Third World leaders might threaten to turn.

One rollback weapon is the debt. Third World governments are burdened with huge debts and desperately strapped for funds. In order to meet payments and receive new credits from the U.S.dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), these governments have had to agree to heartless "structural adjustments;" including reductions in social programs, cuts in wages, the elimination of import controls, the removal of restrictions on foreign investments, and the privatization of state enterprises.

Such measures are ostensibly designed to curb inflation, boost exports, and strengthen the fiscal condition of the debtor nation. By consuming less and producing more, debtors supposedly will be better able to pay off their debts. In fact, these structural adjustments work wonderfully for the transnational corporations by increasing the level of exploitation and boosting profit rates. They also leave the economies and peoples of these various countries measurably worse off. Domestic industries lose out to foreign investors. There is a general deindustrialization as state enterprises fall by the wayside or are handed over to private owners to be milked for profits. Many small farmers lose their import protections and subsidies and are driven off the land. Unemployment and poverty increase along with hunger, malnutrition, and various attendant epidemics and diseases.

In time, Third World countries like the Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico slip deeper into the desperately absolute poverty of what has been called the "Fourth World," already inhabited by countries like Haiti and Zaire.

Los Angeles Times (6/13/95)
"With the decline of the Soviet threat, [foreign] aid levels fell off. . . Measured as a percentage of gross national product, the United States gives the least assistance of all industrialized nations, less than .02 percent.

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